six weeks in china: the shanghai must-sees

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asia / china / on the road

My own little list of things you have to do/see/eat when you’re in Shanghai:

1. Take a Bund sightseeing cruise at night.

the bund, shanghai

the bund, shanghai

The Bund is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Shanghai, and for good reason.

The Shanghai Bund is home to dozens of historical buildings of different architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-classical, Beaux-arts and art-deco. For one thing, my company’s old Shanghai office building is one of the historical relics.

The cruise also affords a beautiful view of Pudong, the financial district, at night.

Unfortunately at that time we were there, a lot of construction was going on at the Bund for next year’s World Expo 2010 at Shanghai, so there was no boardwalk to stroll on.

pudong skyline from across the street. the cruise affords a better view.

pudong skyline from across the street. the cruise affords a better view.

2. Eat at Din Tai Fung (Xin Tian Di branch), How Way restaurant (on Nanjing Dong Lu), and Dagu Lu.

shrimp and pork xiaolongbao

shrimp and pork xiaolongbao

Shanghai has a LOT of good eats, and in my few short weeks there I don’t think I’ve covered even a quarter of it. Some of the more notable restaurants I’ve tried include Din Tai Fung on Xin Tian Di, Shanghai’s version of Eastwood in Libis (only more upscale and aesthetically better-looking, haha).

A must-try is their pork xiaolongbao (or soup dumpling), reasonably priced with 5- and 10-piece orders. We swore we couldn’t finish it when we saw how big the bamboo baskets were, but we did. Haha. Seats are hard to come by though, so you may have to wait awhile. But it’s definitely worth it.

how a typical how way dish looks like: red, and chockfull of chillies (Source: Impressive Magazine)

Another hidden gem is How Way Restaurant along Nanjing East Road (Nanjing Dong Lu), which serves absolutely spicy, authentic Szechuan cuisine. (Look for the Shimao International plaza outlet, it’s on the 8th floor.)

Next to the dishes on the menu are very useful chili ratings from one to four–but then again the best dishes are the spicy ones. MUST try the dish with small lobsters, diced chicken with nuts, spicy chicken and spicy squid. (Unfortunately, since the menu is in Mandarin I don’t remember their exact names. There are pictures on the menu however, so that may come in handy.)

The price is absolutely cheap too: we ordered a table-full of food for seven and only paid RMB40 per person. Fair warning: the place gets full pretty quickly. a friend was once told he had to wait an hour to get a table for five. Fortunately we stayed at a nearby hotel, so we usually took a ticket and returned to claim our table 25-30 minutes later.

And while you’re on Nanjing Dong Lu, try out Mr. Yang’s fried pork dumplings, stall found at the back of Shanghai First Food Store (huge neon sign, also near the Shimao building). Again, the line is quite long, but you get four fat, juicy pork xiaolongbao for only RMB4.50 total. Yummy-ness galore.

One of my Indonesian friends swears by it; he drops by the stall each time he visits Shanghai. Remember: it’s where the long line is.

I would also like to specially mention Dagu Lu, in case you’re in search of Western/non-Chinese food. We liked Masala Art and Good Times (Indian cuisine) and absolutely recommend Papa Thai/Papa Mario Pizzeria for the huge servings and the pasta. Papa Mario has both an Italian and Thai menu, depending on which side of the restaurant you entered.

He also doesn’t miss serving you an orange-flavored digestive drink after each meal. Don’t forget to visit the many good-quality DVD stores in the area (pirated po…hehe). RMB7 for DVD-9 quality! Gotta love China.

3. Take a trip to Old Town / Yuyuan Garden.

old town busy-ness

old town busy-ness

My friends found Old Town too tourist-y and crowded for their liking, but I think it’s worth visiting at least once. The place is a hodgepodge of traditional Chinese architecture mixed with the modern (think Starbucks nestled in one of the old Chinese buildings), souvenirs ranging from the unique to the kitsch-y, countless local snack stalls and the Yuyuan Garden itself.

yuyuan garden's koi

yuyuan garden’s koi

4. Go up the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center in Pudong.

oriental pearl tower

oriental pearl tower

On my first day in Shanghai, while in a cab on our way to the hotel at Nanjing Lu I remember thinking to myself that Shanghai had a lot of odd-shaped buildings. It seemed to me that the Shanghai-nese weren’t satisified with a simple flat building top or a pointy rod or even a round dome–the buildings always seemed to have holes in the middle, tetris-brick shaped structures, or angled pillars at the top that made the whole thing seem like Saruman’s tower at Isengard.

Anyway, two of the most interesting and tallest structures in Shanghai’s business district are the Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Financial Center. Both have a great view of the city and its surroundings. The Pearl Tower entrance fee is RMB150 on normal days, but on Tuesdays you can go up for only RMB50.

shanghai financial center to the right :)

shanghai financial center to the right :)

5. Take an evening stroll on Nanjing Lu.

nanjing east road from my hotel window

nanjing east road from my hotel window

I was fortunate enough to have stayed at a hotel located squarely on Nanjing Dong Lu (Nanjing East Road), so I could enjoy the view any old time I wanted.

What I love about Nanjing Road is the lights at night… the color and the bustle and the people and the trams traversing the length of the road–I believe all of that formed part of this little microcosm of hip and trendy Shanghai. If you’re an obvious foreigner though, don’t be surprised if you get approached often with offers of “watch?…bag?…lady?…” so be prepared. Just shake your head and say “bu shi” (no).

nanjing road by day

nanjing road by day

I wanted to keep the list short and cap it at five, but I just couldn’t help but mention two other things you might like to do:

– check out the Shanghai club scene. (some places we’ve tried include Mint, Muse and its neighbor Sky.)

– SHOP. It’s an absolute must. Given that China is the haven for all cheap knockoffs of famous brands (be it in the bag, mobile phone or art department), this is one of the things you must absolutely not miss out on. For clothes and shoes we tried Xi Bu Lu (Take a cab, make sure to have your concierge write the name of the place in Mandarin. The place is huge, two buildings worth of shopping madness) and A.P. Plaza (5 stations from People’s Square stop on line 2), which is cleaner and air-conditioned as well.

A.P. Plaza also has a pearl market attached to it. Btw, one thing you have to remember is to always bargain like crazy. For some reason shop-owners who start with some far out price like RMB650 for a fake D&G bag are almost always willing to settle for something far less (like RMB200). Just start with something like 1/5 of the quoted price and meet somewhere in the middle. One of my friends, an Indian who is an absolute pro at bargaining, always had to keep reminding me not to fall for the sighs and the shouts of “crazy price!… hey lady, offer me your best price!…” as it is all supposedly an act.

Personally I don’t bargain too hard, but it’s always quite fulfilling when you find out you got that LV clutch for RMB10 less than one of your girl friends.

taikang lu art

taikang lu art

– Visit Taikang Lu, a maze of little art streets with cramped cafes, small shops selling leather notebooks and Italian gelato, and cozy restaurants with stairs so narrow and rickety you have to climb them sideways. We once went there as a group of twenty people and had a hell of a time finding a  place that could seat us all.

We eventually did–after being led through a labyrinth of streets and sidestreets–and we had a lovely time cramped on their second floor area & balcony.


The Author

I am 100% Filipina. I've lived in Manila, Jakarta, and London. Right now, I'm firmly planted in the tiny island of Singapore! I caught the travel bug early on. I also love reading, dark chocolate, spur-of-the-moment food trips, Fridays, dachshunds, and lazy weekends with my family or the Hubby.

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